Retaining What You Learn17 June 2020
When you first begin learning to code, everything is new and exciting and short term retention of information is the norm. But science has shown that our brains are simply not wired to hold onto everything we learn after one exposure. After one hour of learning, most learners retain less than half of the information that was presented to them, and after one day, people forget more than seventy percent of what was taught to them. Retaining learned information is an active process that requires the use of specific techniques.
By introducing techniques such as repeat exposure, regular and consistent feedback, and meaningful work, you can ensure that your new coding knowledge sticks around, ensuring you can apply it long-term. Here is a guide to the proven tips you can use to retain the knowledge you’ve learned.
Start With Your Why
Simon Sinek posits that beginning with the reason you are engaging with work is important for a variety of reasons -- from staying motivated to retaining the information at hand.
Sinek says, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” The pathways in your brain work the same way -- we spend more time thinking about things we are passionate about. Connecting your coding journey to a passion -- such as increasing your earning potential in order to provide a better life for your family, or learning to create a website to continue spreading the message of the work that your company is doing in the community -- you build additional pathways in your brain to retain the knowledge at hand.
Remember why you began this journey in the first place and you’ll be able to remember the little details!
Teach Someone Else
Teaching someone else is a proven strategy to cement what you are learning.
For example, if you are learning HTML, find a friend with a blog and show them how they can improve the formatting of their work. If you are learning CSS, find a friend who is looking to build a landing page for a new service their business is providing, and use this opportunity to help them. Your friends will be grateful for the free tech advice and your brain will reinforce the knowledge it has learned by processing it anew in a fresh context.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Those who practice what they have learned retain, at minimum, three quarters of the information they learn in a course. Practicing, like teaching, involves making mistakes and instantly correcting them -- reinforcing the learning.
For this reason, SoloLearn offers a Code Playground where you can practice what you learn, as you learn it. Additionally, you can work backwards and practice your coding by reading code written by someone else and try your hand at simple tasks with your newfound skills! Putting your skills to use will help them stick.
Take Notes on What You Learn
Writing uses a completely different part of the brain than reading or working with your hands does. So when you take notes on what you are learning by hand, you are building a second pathway in your brain, thereby allowing you to retain the information better.
Reading your notes out loud is an additional way to strengthen your memory. Additionally, you can record your notes and listen to them during your commute. This will allow you to study during time that might otherwise be wasted, and build up to three learning pathways in your brain. A well-known statistic for memory is that someone has to hear something seven times before it’s retained forever. Note-taking, reading, and listening are three ways to apply your learning so that it sticks.
Apply the 50/50 Rule
The 50/50 Rule is simple: learn for fifty percent of the time, and explain what you learn for the other fifty percent. For example, if you have one hour per day budgeted to learning coding, don’t spend it all learning as many lessons as you can in sixty minutes. Instead, try budgeting a half hour to learn new material, and then spend the other half hour explaining it or otherwise digesting the learning. Try drawing a picture or creating a video to explain the concept to a child. Similar to explaining to someone in person, these techniques will help you refocus your understanding of the topic at hand and thereby grow your understanding and retention of the subject matter.
Use More of Your Senses
When you utilize more of your senses to learn, you build up extra pathways in your brain around a particular subject matter. For example, a psychological study once showed that students who used visual associations for words remembered the material better than their peers who had studied using other methods.
There are a variety of ways to engage your senses while learning a new skill. If you are a highly active person, consider exercising while you learn to engage your sense of touch, such as doing jumping jacks while reciting coding patterns, or even tapping them out onto your desk. If you are a visual learner, consider making a chart or diagram. You can engage other senses by listening to videos that explain various topics or by creating the videos yourself. Add an additional layer of challenge by utilizing a method that is outside of your comfort zone. When you engage in a struggle to think of a new and novel way to condense information, you are continually strengthening your understanding of that information.
Engage Productive Struggle
“Productive struggle is the process of effortful learning that develops grit and problem solving,” according to ST Math, a leading online math learning tool for children. In other words, productive struggle is when you allow your brain to work into overdrive, but with understandable limits.
Have you forgotten something about the code you are learning that you should remember? Consider setting a brief timer and searching your memory for the answer. More often than not, it will pop up if you give it time. Rather than immediately jumping to Google or a textbook, try to recall the information that you’ve already absorbed in your brain.
By doing this, your brain is forced to revisit the pathways it initially forged when you were learning this information. This strengths the original pathway and decreases the likelihood that you will ever forget the information again.
Similarly, if you make mistakes in the learning process, consider correcting the mistakes by hand, and through memory as this will help your brain undergo a similar information retrieval process.
Take Study Breaks
This sounds counterproductive, we know. However, your brain works just like a muscle -- and when your brain is exhausted, it is significantly less likely to retain information. Just as an athlete takes breaks between weight-lifting reps, you must take a break between coding lessons.
Use this break to summarize what you have learned. Consider challenging yourself to fit everything you’ve learned into the space of an index card, or to condense it into a one-minute video. The challenge to be succinct will truly test whether or not you understand the information or if you are just reciting it.
After you’ve completed your review, give yourself a real break! Go outside. Feel the sunshine and get a brief amount of exercise. This will allow you to come back to your lessons, reinvigorated and ready to learn.